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           Home >  Community  > New Zealand Women  :

When enough is enough

Breaking the cycle of domestic violence

Moana Tipu

Reprinted with permission from the Ngai Tahu magazine, "Te Karaka" - 19/09/03

Ko tau hikoi i runga i taku whariki
Ko tau noho ki toku whare
Ka huakina ai ko aku tatau, ko aku matapihi

Your steps on my whariki
your respect for my home
opens my doors and windows

It is a sad fact that domestic violence has become woven into the fabrics of our lives.

Whatever your race, religion, socio-economic background, or what side of town you were raised on, it is likely domestic violence has touched your life in some way.

The most unfortunate fact is that Maori top the statistics when it comes to the incidence and social cost of domestic violence, in what has been described as a 'culture of violence'.

Studies tell us that the level of domestic violence amongst Maori is a reflection of the breakdown of the social fabric of the Maori way of life, prior to, during and after colonisation.

In simple terms this means the loss of social and traditional (whanau based) structures, systems of discipline and justice, the language, beliefs, values, philosophies and loss of identity.

Also, isolation through moving to urban centres means many Maori have been dislocated from vital support networks. Add to this hardships linked to low educational achievement, low incomes and restricted employment opportunities and you'd think the picture looks bleak.

The reality is that it is. And it has been for a long time, but behaviours of a lifetime take time to change.

Looking back at this small island nation of the South Pacific, we see that generations of us emerge from the sons and daughters of warrior races. And, however we care to look at it, many of us are likely to carry somewhere within our DNA, an instinct for survival against the odds of just about any circumstance.

It would stand to reason then that we might have as a nation, enough knowledge and common wisdom amongst us to confront and conquer the beast of domestic violence that causes us statistically to have some of the most violent homes on earth.

So how much do we need to know about domestic violence in order to make a stand against it? How much does it take until we've had enough? Do we recognise violence when it shows up; in our relationships, in the affairs of property, money, resources, in our thinking, words and actions and those of others?

When we comb through the increasing number of behaviours identified as domestic violence, every one of us is likely to have had an experience with one or more forms - as a witness, a perpetrator or a victim at some time in our lives.

A well-known domestic violence tool developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project describes the cycle of abuse versus the cycle of nurturing.

The abuse cycle cites physical and sexual violence as a way of gaining power and control over another by use of coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, environmental, cultural, spiritual isolation, minimising, denying and blaming. It talks about using children, male privilege (or female), or in fact any means available to maintain position, power and authority over another.

The nurturing cycle on the other hand, promotes emotional and physical security, self-discipline, the giving of time, encouragement and support, the giving of affection, care for oneself and trust and respect.

We all have our own definition of what level of behaviour we consider to be domestic violence. However the Domestic Violence Act defines it as violence against a person by any other person with whom that person is, or has been, in a domestic relationship. In this definition, violence means physical, sexual, psychological abuse. This includes intimidation, harassment, damage to property, or threats of physical, sexual or psychological abuse.

Regarding children the act says that, a person psychologically abuses a child if that person causes or allows a child to see or hear the physical, sexual or psychological abuse of a person with whom the child has a domestic relationship. Or secondly if they either put the child or allow the child to be put at real risk of seeing or hearing that abuse occurring.

Incredibly in a NZ study of 1,000 battered women, 70% of their children were also abused. And from interviews with these children, researchers found that almost all of them could remember and describe detailed accounts of violent behaviour that their mother or father never realised they had witnessed. Hence the cycle continues.

Research suggests that up to one in four women in New Zealand experience abuse during their lifetime and that half of adult female murders in this country are the result of intimate partner assault.

This on-going culture of violence is impacting negatively on all aspects of our society and, as with a number of social issues, the incidence and impact is greatest for Maori.

Many programmes and services have been developed over time to deal with the issues surrounding violence in the home, some of which have proved to be hugely successful.

A kaupapa Maori approach to domestic violence has proven highly successful and participants say that important aspects of the programmes are about being listened to, not being judged, being accepted and being able to share their experiences with other Maori women who have had similar experiences.

One such programme is He Taonga te Mokopuna, focusing on the needs of children three to eight years of age who have witnessed domestic abuse.

Its philosophical base is built on the principles and strands of Te Whariki, the national early childhood curriculum statement of Nga Honotanga, Whanau-Tangata, Kotahitanga, Whakama.

Three kaupapa Maori service providers - He Waka Tapu (Stopping violence services for Men), Te Puna Oranga (sexual abuse counselling) and Otautahi Women's Refuge collectively deliver 'Wahine Whakaoho', a 10 week self- development programme for Maori women. While the programme focuses on well-being, it also identifies forms of violence along with strategies for the safety of women and children.

So, who are the organisations providing ground based support locally and across Te Waipounamu? In the early 1970s, networks of dedicated women - Maori and European - set up refuges in their own homes.

One of the first houses was established in Dunedin and shortly after, Christchurch Women's Refuge opened in Canterbury. Otautahi Women's Refuge for Maori women and children was established out of that in 1989 and still maintains a working relationship with all three sister refuges across the city.

The National Collective Institute of Women's Refuges (NCIWR), based in Wellington, supports 54 refuges across Aotearoa, 11 of which provide kaupapa Maori services to Maori women and children. Eleven of about 13 South Island refuges are affiliated to the national movement. Otautahi Women's Refuge is the only kaupapa Maori service operating in Te Waipounamu.

Services across the country offer a 24 hour 7 day per week crisis line for emergency counselling, pick-up and referral to specialist agencies, a safe residential house advocacy and support with medical assistance, protection and custody orders, benefit management and a range of training, education and follow-up programmes for women and children.

In Christchurch alone, an average of 119 Maori women and 98 children utilize refuge residential services annually, and more than 150 Maori women each year receive support in outreach services across Canterbury.

Training and education programmes for women and children include 'Wahine Whakaoho' which runs three 10-step programmes annually. It is free and a woman's only obligation is a commitment to completing the programme.

The flagship of Otautahi Women's Refuge is their Children's Specialist Pilot Programme established in 1998 to provide education and support to boys and girls 9 - 14 years of age who have experienced domestic violence. There are four marae based programmes delivered annually, each for a duration of 36 hours.

As refuges become more visible within their communities, associated networks of specialist agencies will play an even greater role in the bid to reduce domestic violence.

In 1994 the cost of reported domestic violence to the New Zealand economy was conservatively estimated at $1.2 billion. The cost to Vote Health was $140.7 million and the cost of health services directly borne by victims was a further $16.5 million per annum.

Children have a right to be safe:

Ministry of Health statistics reveal that in 1996, 18 children under the age of 20 were killed by injury purposely inflicted by other persons.

A nationwide study found that 75% of children in Women's Refuges who had witnessed the abuse of their mother showed behavioural problems severe enough to require specialist assistance.

Children and youth who have been abused or neglected at home are more vulnerable to other types of abuse, especially sexual abuse. A child abuser has an average of 50.2 victims. Psychological and verbal abuse also damage children. Effects include acute feelings of loss, anger, sadness, confusion, guilt, shock, fear, insecurity and the risk of self-mutilation.

A child's intellectual, emotional and psychological ability is shaped by what the child sees and hears, and how they make sense of it. Experiencing and witnessing abuse prevent children from reaching their potential as adults.

Children are reported to move into one of four coping mechanisms, which are, apparently, easily recognised:

They withdraw into a fantasy world, apparently unaware of whats going on around them.

They become overly compliant, quiet or high achievers at school. They may have issues of conflicted loyalty and feel they have to choose which parent to support, or that they can only love one parent.

They live in terror and fear with no stability or certainty, eventually leading to chronic long-term anxiety, depression, bed-wetting and regression to younger behaviour.

They display signs of aggression, bullying and failure at school, sometimes diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity-disorder.

What to do if you suspect violence or abuse?

  • If the violence is serious or imminent, report it to the Police or the Department of Child, Youth and Family.
  • Make sure that the child's primary caregiver is safe from violence and abuse.
  • Always consider the needs of children when responding to a domestic violence situation.
  • When violence is present, assume that it is impacting on children and whanau nearby.
  • Assure children that violence used by adults is not the child's fault.
  • Recognise that domestic violence abuse and neglect are often accompanied by sexual abuse, which also requires specialist response.
  • Learn about the specialised children's services available in your area.
  • Learn about the effects of trauma in children.
  • Listen carefully to children's experience - recognise that it is traumatic for them.
  • Recognise that with careful, consistent and skilled assistance children can recover from the effects of abuse.
  • Limit re-victimisation - agencies involved in helping need to co-operate and agree on one person to take the lead role.

All information contained within this article has been sourced from Domestic Violence Website, Ministry of Women's Affairs - Panui Publications and the Ministry of Health Family violence Intervention Guidelines

Contact information
Otautahi Women's Refuge Christchurch - Crisis Line 0800 11 74 74
Office 352 5817

Glossary of Maori Words supplied by a Maori supporter of NZine
He Taonga te MokopunaGrandchildren are cherished
Te Wharikithe mat
Nga Honotangajoining, relationship, connection
Whanau-Tangatafamily, man, or birth
Whakamashy, embarrassed, shame
He Waka Tapua sacred canoe
Te Puna Orangathe spring of health or revival
OtautahiChristchurch area
Wahine WhakaohoWomen arise
Te WaipounamuSouth Island

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